On Monday, Nov. 8, the department of history and classics celebrated Providence College’s 1973 graduating class, the first to include women. Students of the history department invited alums, Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg and Dr. Karen Holland, to participate on a panel which was a part of a larger series honoring 50 Years of Women at Providence College titled “Then. Now. Next.”
Justice Goldberg sits on the Rhode Island Supreme Court and Dr. Karen Holland is an assistant professor of history at Providence College, teaching courses in both Development of Western Civilization and early modern European history.
Both Justice Goldberg and Dr. Holland transferred from Salve Regina University to Providence College as juniors in 1971. They attribute their educational and career successes to the rigorous academic program and the caliber of the professors at PC.
Missing her first two years as a student at PC, Justice Goldberg especially regrets that she was not able to study in the DWC program. Dr. Holland, describing herself as a very serious student, mentioned that in the first four years of coeducation at PC, a sizable number of exceptional female professors were added to the English and DWC faculty.
When asked about ways in which PC disappointed her, Dr. Holland spoke up about an issue that still elicits feelings of injustice today. None of the women of the class of 1973 were able to graduate with honors at commencement.
The panel discussion was backdropped by digital images from the 1973 PC yearbook that set the scene of the arrival of the first women on campus. Both panelists remember their attendance at PC as a time of turbulence for the United States and immense social change sweeping across the nation. The recent assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the pushback against the war in Vietnam, the Watergate Scandal, and the Kent State shooting, meant that Justice Goldberg and Dr. Holland did not feel as if their attendance at Providence College was the only groundbreaking event of the decade.
Justice Goldberg opened the panel event with a story that was the cause of great amusement for the audience. She remembers the opening of Aquinas Hall to women in 1970 and some of the structural changes made to accommodate them. The copious amount of urinals that littered walls and bathrooms were replaced with ironing boards. This good-hearted attempt represented how the PC administration was eager to welcome women onto the campus, but had to refocus the way they saw them. The pamphlet “When the Girls Come,” written by Father Lennon (OP) and distributed to the Class of 1973 upon arrival, was mentioned by Justice Goldberg as evidence of this. Some administrators were truly concerned about women frequently crying to their professors and campus-wide menstrual cycles. Dr. Holland remembers that professors continually addressed the class as “gentlemen.” Though not discouraged by this, she had to announce herself with an “I’m here, too.”
The panel’s student hosts concluded by asking for advice on behalf of young women attending PC today. Justice Goldberg said that women should not veer away from law. As a pillar of the legal profession in Rhode Island, she says that many women with whom she works graduated from the College and she believes PC, with its emphasis on liberal arts education, to be an amazing place to start a law career. Dr. Holland’s advice was less specific but equally compelling to the audience. She suggested that any collegiate or career interest should be given follow-through. If a young woman is interested in something, she must give it a follow-through and seek out people who can support her in it.